June 6, 2013

Burma Campaign UK today welcomed a statement by Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi, that ‘independent investigative work’ is required ‘for an informed assessment as to whether ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed.’ However, words need to be turned into action or they will simply amount to yet more platitudes from the British government.

Baroness Warsi was speaking in a debate on Burma in the House of Lords on Wednesday 5th June. She was speaking in response to a question by Baroness Nye, a board member of Burma Campaign UK.
The Minister stopped short of proposing a way to set up an independent international investigation, as called for by Human Rights Watch. In April Human Rights Watch published a report, ‘All You Can Do Is Pray’, which provided evidence that ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed against the ethnic Rohingya of Burma.

“If British government platitudes were an effective policy tool, we have had so many that Burma would be the freest society in the world by now”, said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “It is very frustrating to see the British government constantly saying what needs to be done but then doing nothing to make it actually happen. It is meaningless to call on the government of Burma to conduct an independent investigation. The British government know full well this will never happen. Almost every UN General Assembly Resolution on Burma for more than 20 years has made similar calls for investigations into abuses. The only way any investigation will happen is if an international investigation is set up.”

The British government is moving at breakneck speed to embrace the government of Burma, despite the country still having one of the worst human rights records in the world. Later this month Lord Green will visit Burma on a trade mission, following Minister Hugo Swire MP leading a trade mission in December, hoping to win lucrative contracts from the government of Burma. The UK has yet to lead a human rights mission to Burma.

The British government also refused yet again to commit to including Burma in its Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, despite reports of rape by the Burmese Army increasing since Thein Sein became President. However, facing increasing pressure over the decision to exclude Burma, the Minister did appear to make some concession during the Lords debate by stating:

“My noble friend Lady Jenkin asked about PSVI. Over the summer the British embassy in Rangoon will be scoping options for increasing UK engagement and embedding PSVI approaches to tackle sexual violence in Burma.”

“In its rush to embrace President Thein Sein and seize business opportunities, the British government is prepared to look the other way and take no action to try to prevent ethnic cleansing and mass rape in Burma,” said Mark Farmaner.

The full text of the debate is available here.

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